THE TRANS-LABRADOR HIGHWAY 2010
THE MOOSE to CHURCHILL FALLS
Those of you with long memories (well it is two weeks since I've been on the move and I've covered a great deal of land in that time) will remember that I number amongst my travelling companions one that has been described in certain quarters as "a giant stuffed moose" (although don't ever let him hear you call him that). He's come here to see his cousins and at 162 kilometres he strikes it lucky.
Strawberry Moose was formerly the mascot of the Students' Association of a University for mature students and travelled the world being photographed in strange and unusual situations. He retired from his post round about the time that I graduated.
Although whatever I was doing in a University for mature students is a matter of much debate and comment.
He, for it is undoubtedly a he, sauntered across the road as if he owned it, which he probably did, and then stopped to glance at all his admirers once he had made it back into the safety of the forest.
I say "safety of the forest" because I have been told quite seriously that on average a motorist collides with a moose twice every day in regions of upper Canada. And so I suppose that both the driver and the moose are getting quite fed up of it.
And those of you with even longer memories will recall that back in 2003 I had a close emcounter with a beast of this variety in the wilds of New Brunswick
Of course you can't come 4,000 miles and not engage your cousins in some kind of lengthy conversation - there are a lot of old times to catch up on - and so Strawberry Moose and his new friend carry on quite a chat. Yon moose is clearly quite interested in all of the events and the excitement that is taking place.
In general though, moose are quite magnificent creatures, very large and very top-heavy. It is their top-heaviness that is their downfall, and also the downfall of many motorists as with cars being so low-slung, any accident between a car and a moose involves the car taking out the legs of the moose. This causes the heavy body of the moose to come crashing down upon the car and its occupants.
You need to drive cautiously whenever you are in the vicinity of moose.
Despite what I said earlier about the weather "no surprise there"... ed I do eventually arrive at a point where the view is so beautiful that I am obliged to stop for a photo-shoot.
It's only a couple of miles further on - kilometre 165 or thereabouts to be precise (or as precise as I can be anyway). The view from here encouraged me to box the compass with the camera
To the right of me is a shot of the dead trees in the foreground, a lake in the middle distance and a plain full of conifers stretching right away to the mountains in the distance. It was certainly spectacular.
This is looking back the way that I had come - that is, westwards. Labrador City is down there.
Again we have more dead trees in the shot and in the distance. half-hidden in the misty clouds is a beautiful mountain, with a covering of snow. What you might call "the icing on the cake".
But just look at the condition of the road here. This is what I've been driving on for the last I don't know how long. And what is the story behind the fence? And the story behind the erection of the fence too?
The view forward left is equally as ... errr ... enchanting. We have a lake, as you might expect given that Labrador is called "The Land of a Million Lakes" or something like that. There's even a little island out there, and I bet it's one of those places where the hand of man has never set foot.
In the foreground we have boulders, barren unfertile rocky land, dead fir trees and some significant new growth whereas away in the distance, if you can peer through the fog, we have mountains.
And that's the way that I'm heading - eastwards into the fog and gloom and also into the unknown. Churchill Falls is in that direction - about another 80 kilometres or so, I reckon. I really ought to be pushing on. Or pushing off.
But despite the urgency of my journey today, this was a good place to stop. All in all, these four photos are quite symbolic and sum up all that you need to know about Upper Labrador.
Talking of Churchill Falls, I reckon that I'm about two-thirds of the way there right now and if so, I'm reminded of a story told to me by someone in Labrador City that actually concerns this spot. It is about the Québecois who set out to drive from Labrador City to Churchill Falls and when he reached this spot, about two-thirds of the way along, he realised that he didn't have enough petrol to coplete the journey and so turned round to go back to Labrador City to buy some more.
Coming as I do from Europe where all kinds of national stereotypes are the subject of endless amounts of humorous comment, I was somewhat pleased to see that this custom is prevalent even out here in the Canadian wilderness. And never mind the relevance of this joke to the spot upon which I was standing, if you manage to follow my journey over to Cartwright, you'll see just how apposite this kind of remark was to become.
from that point onwards the lake that was "forward left" goes on for miles and miles and miles. Here we are at kilometre 181 and it's still going. we have some deciduous trees and shrubs in the foreground too. That would seem to indicate an easing of the climate around here.
I could feel the wind blowing across this lake, and a cold wind it certainly was. The wind was churning up a few waves as well and with them lapping against the rocks on the shore it was just like standing in a bay at the seaside.
If you look across the lake you will see some electricity pylons so it's looking like there is some kind of civilisation somewhere in the vicinity. But it seems to me that it mist be a lot of hard work to plant them over there in places like that. The logisitics of actually building them miles away from a road must have been something. The tracking down of any fault if there is a cable brought down by the weight of snow must be something else.
And if I am not mistaken, I've just noticed a strange golden orb-like object trying to poke its way through the clouds and there is a small part of the sky that has turned a funny colour, like blue. What is this all about?
A short while further on I came to another lake where I stopped for a photo opportunity, but unfortunately I seem to have omitted to make a note of where this particular lake might be. It's another beautiful lake of course, typical Labrador scenery, and the road passes through it on a kind of causeway.
We have the electricity pylons of course but this time they have their own islands in the middle of the lake. Seeing this, I was keeping an eye open for anyone wandering around here carrying a multimeter and a canoe
And while you are at it, take a look at the sky in the upper right hand corner. What do you make of that?
Parked at the side of the lake was a motorhome - someone clearly taking his time to see the Highway. This was how I was planning to see the trail and I made exhaustive enquiries but I ruled it out for several reasons, namely
i.... The hire charges were totally ridiculous (but I revised slightly my opinion when I considered how much I had to pay for accommodation up here - but I am getting ahead of myself for the moment)
ii... The fuel comsumption of a motorhome is also ridiculous and it became a question of logistics - was there enough range to be able to make it between the fuel stops?
iii.. There is a mileage limit of 1000 kilometres. Not per week as I was expecting, but PER HIRE. That was totally out of the question.
There were a few other things too, but that was enough to convince me that it was not such a good idea.
There really ought to be someone filling a little niche market for single-person campers in car-derived vans out here in Canada. whoever did it would clean up.
I noticed a couple of roadsigns of a similar nature along the route, and eventually I found one that was in camera range to photograph. And all in all, this kind of thing is rather disconcerting, if not ominous.
Of the four languages on the sign, well of course one is English and the other is French. The other two may well be Innu and Inuit, the language of the First Nation Canadians who live around here, although I would welcome some confirmation of this.
I am told that there is some kind of treaty right that gives First Nation Canadians the right to unlimited fishing in the water, and to withdraw that right, for whatever reason, is to breach the treaty. Hence it is not possible to ban the consumption of locally-caught fish, even if it is all poisonous.
However, there is some good news round about now. Firstly, the sun is definitely out, all nice, gold and shining, and I am feeling so much better and so much more optimistic that I was an hour or so ago. This means of course that the temperature is starting to warm up a little and we have even reached the heady heights of 1°C.
Secondly, I've been noticing that for the last however any kilometres I've been back amongst the stunted pines and weird-shaped pines as well. All of this can only mean that I'm coming off the plateau into a more-sheltered valley and this might mean that Churchill Falls isn't all that far away.
But we aren't out of the woods yet, said he, carefully choosing an appropriate metaphor. At 196 kilometres I encounter another working grader. And right on cue, we have yet another terrific rainstorm. It really is like Dante's Inferno here
A short way further on we cross the 200-kilometre mark. And according to Casey's tripmeter I am at 206.6 kilometres. You might recall that we started out with a 9-kilometre difference and by kilometre 160 it had reduced itself to a 7.7 kilometre difference. Now it's reduced again, despite the fact that it ought to be increasing seeing as how I'm occasionally doing little U-turns to double back to look at things.
Still, we'll reset the difference to 7 kilometres until further notice. It's going to change dramatically soon anyway because I'm going to take the opportunity in Churchill Falls to cram as much fuel into my tank as I possibly can. I cannot understate the importance of fuelling up at every conceivable opportunity.
I couldn't resist doubling back to take a photo of this roadsign that I saw at 203 kilometres. Clearly one of the aeroplanes flew a little lower than all of the others. The thing though that I am wondering is where do these low-flying aeroplanes come from. There's no civilian airport for a while and I haven't seen any military jets around here.
The sign is of course in the four local languages, namely English, French and two First-nation languages which I am presuming are Innu and Inuit. But if you have any information to impart to me on this subject, please .
Having done my U-turn and gone back for a photograph I see that the difference between the kilometre posts and Casey's tripmeter has now slightly increased to 6.9 kilometres. And about time too, if you ask me.
So whatever valley that might have been, it doesn't last long. At 212 kilometres I have to climb up a very steep bank and I'm right back into the mist and low-lying clouds. It's raining again and there is snow at the side of the roads and I'm all depressed again. My cheerful spirits didn't last all that long.
At 221 kilometres is a road sign for "Esker". Those of you who know your geography will immediately recall that an esker is some kind of moraine - a bank of sand and gravel that a glacier has deposited as it retreats under melt conditions. The debris that the glacier is carrying is simply dumped on the ground.
Previously-glaciated regions used to be covered in them but because they are so easy to excavate for the sand and gravel that they contain there are very few left now. Up here in the back of beyond however there is much more possibility of them remaining more-or-less intact.
But the Esker that this sign refers to is a stop on the Québec North Shore and Labrador Railway line - the line that we saw in the region of Labrador City earlier today. At Esker are a few houses and some inhabitants and I am led to understand that there is a passenger train that works the line between Sept-Iles and Schefferville and which makes a stop there.
The sign also implied that there was some kind of fishing lodges and hunting facilities and that kind of thing down that road. I certainly know that all round Esker is a huge licensed hunting preserve. So it might be worth bearing in mind if you are passing but I can't vouch for anything at all - I don't even know if it's one of these members-only places that you occasionally find around here. I took one look at the track and decided that discretion was the better part of valour. In something like a 4x4 F150 I might have gone for a wander but in a Chrysler PT-Cruiser it wasn't really an option.
You need to carefully choose your vehicle if you are planning on coming down the Trans-Labrador Highway.
Round about here is also the most northerly part of the route. From here we are now heading slightly south-east. Having crossed the 52nd parallel back at Gagnon I don't recall seeing a sign to say whether or not I had passed the 53rd.
Maybe that's just as well. As Kipling once said,
"There's never a law of God or man
runs north of 53"
And so we continue. At 232 kilometres I encounter a sign that tells me I am at 40 kilometres from Churchill Falls. And just after that there is a cross not too far away from the edge of the road, surrounded by decorative stones and with all kinds of floral tributes around it. Extremely poignant, I thought, and it brings home to you some of the difficulties that are encountered by those who live around here, when there isn't a local undertaker to call and there isn't any consecrated ground for miles around.
It was also round about here that I was dramatically awoken from my reverie. The road had been reasonably passable for the last while or so and I was moving along quite respectably (well, respectably for around here) and it all of a sudden simply collapsed and I don't recall seeing a stretch of road as rough as this. There were huge stones protruding out of the surface and it was necessary to slow right down and pick my way around them otherwise both Casey and myself would have been in for a nasty shock.
Even more suddenly, at about 240 kilometres I burst out of a valley to find myself confronted by a narrow single-track bridge. Nothing coming the other way of course - in fact I can't remember when it was that I last saw another vehicle on this road - so I can stop for a nosey about.
It's the Churchill River of course, as you can see by the sign, and I'll now be following this river for quite some time as it drains into Lake Melville at Happy Valley - Goose Bay, which is my destination for the night - if I ever get there which at the current rate of travel is rather doubtful.
It doesn't look like much of a river at the moment but you need to imagine how it might have been in the summer, in full spate with all of the meltwater from further upstream swelling the volume of water.
The rocks and the boulders are impressive, however, and you can gauge some kind of idea about the water in here simply by considering the force that might be required to move them. It won't have been just a trickle, will it?
Mind you, all that was a long time ago. The river these days has been effectively diverted to power the huge hydro-electric generator at Churchill Falls and the locals reckon that you might have a major stream running down here "once in a decade" when the pipeline to the generator overflows.
If you are interested, which I am sure that you are, the river was formerly called the Hamilton River, being so named in 1821 in honour of Sir Charles Hamilton, the Governor of Newfoundland between 1818 and 1825. It was renamed in 1965 to commemmorate Sir Winston Churchill, a week or so after his death.
Statisticians will be delighted to learn that the river is 532 miles long and flows from the Smallwood Dam, the second-largest reservoir in the world and the site of a major hydroelectric project. I was told that prior to the construction of the Dam the rivers and lakes up-country were all part of a canoeist's magnificent paradise, but since the flooding of the upper valley, the area "has no attractions for the modern canoeist"
And talking ov canoeists, did you know that it is against the law to light a fire in a canoe? Apparently you cannot have your kayak and heat it.
You can also see the power lines that have been dogging our route for the last however many kilometres.
The deck of the bridge is interesting - it's all metal open lattice-work and it's the first time I've noticed this type of deck - although I am going to say that I haven't been paying much attention to the decking up to now.
The reason for this type of decking is quite clear. It's so that snow doesn't build up on the deck of the bridge and block the road to traffic. The snow simply falls through into the river below. Mind you, when the weather is wet and greasy like it is today, it makes for an interesting driving surface.
Not much farther along after this was another one of these mercury signs. I reckon that that is extremely worrying. Is it some kind of natural occurrence, such as the river flowing through a seepage of mercury from the rocks, or is it to do with industrial or mining pollution?
As I approach Churchill Falls I'm starting to see more and more of the deciduous hedgerows that I encountered earlier along the trail and it's starting to take on something of a European aspect. There's a really beautiful thick forest here that you might even say has a deciduous hedge to it and I'm even starting to see grasses again.
Churchill Falls has an airport too, like most of the small towns up here in the wilderness. My attention is drawn to this by the windsock that is poking up above a fence at 253 kilometres. A short way futher on we pass the entrance to the place and here we also encounter a paved road, the first I've seen for a while. This encourages me to put my foot down and head for the town.